The well-traveled Robert Lockwood, Jr. is one of the most recorded guitarists in the history of the blues. His unique playing, at once sophisticated and down-home, is featured on countless recordings as a sideman with such artists as Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter during his tenure in Chicago 1940s, 50s & 60s. It's not without irony, then, that his work over the last four decades as a Cleveland-based bandleader is nowhere near as well-documented. The Complete Trix Recordings
on Savoy Jazz is a fine step towards righting this situation, repackaging together and restoring to print two of his best albums from the 1970s: 1974's Contrasts
& 1977's Robert Lockwood, Jr. Does 12
The two dates compliment each other and are interesting to compare and contrast. Like most sets from Lockwood, they each include a mix of originals and standards, the former including some of Robert's trademark jump blues instrumentals and the latter including the music of Mr. Lockwood's legendary stepfather and guitar teacher, Robert Johnson. Both are full band dates, though all but bassist Gene Schwartz sit out on about half of the fourteen tracks on Contrasts
. The major difference between the two is in Lockwood's choice of axe; while the first disc finds him playing six-string, ...Does 12
showcases Lockwood's unique ability to play the blues on the 12-string guitar.Contrasts
opens with Lockwood, Jr. playing some tasty slide guitar on the traditional blues "Little Boy Blue" and showing some influence on vocals from Muddy Waters that aren't as detectable on subsequent recordings. That this track is recorded with the needles seemingly going a little bit into the red only enhances its overall effect. A rousing "Dust My Broom" and heartfelt "Mr. Down Child" hold down the Johnson segment of the recording. "Annie's Boogie" is a singing instrumental featuring fine playing from tenor saxophonist Maurice Reedus and some Django-esque soling from Lockwood Jr. atop a swinging rhythm deftly handled by Schwartz and drummer Gene Cook. "Majors, Minors & Ninths" is every bit the sophisticated tutorial on guitar chords that the name implies....Does 12
features three Johnson compositions: the relatively rare "Terraplane Blues," "Little Queen of Spades" and the much more frequently covered "Walkin' Blues." That said, Lockwood's reading of "Walkin' Blues" is pretty unique, a full band version with authentic sounding Delta guitar and a lightly swinging full arrangement. The disc's biggest treat is another song that harkens back to Lockwood's roots, the set closing rendition of "King Bisucit Time," the theme from the famous Arkansas based radio show that featured Lockwood and Williamson in the 1940s.
Robert Lockwood, Jr. is a well-known name in the blues, but probably not as well-heard as his playing merits. It is only fair that his name is linked with his teacher and step-father Robert Johnson, but it has the unfortunate effect of somewhat obscuring the main unique elements in Lockwood's playing. With his wide vocabulary of chords and jazzy improvisational and rhythmic sense, Lockwood seems to bridge the gap between the Mississippi blues and the Texas blues of T-Bone Walker and his followers The two albums collected on The Complete Trix Recordings
features all aspects of his playing and seems an essential document for blues fans and almost perfectly representative as a collection of his diverse talents.